October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month

How to Encourage Bullying Bystanders to Report Bullying

How to Help Student Bystanders
Become “Upstanders”

There Are No Innocent Bullying Bystanders

Before we talk about how to encourage bullying bystanders to report bullying, let’s first talk about why it’s important they do.

Many anti-bullying educators believe that encouraging bullying bystanders to report bullying is the key to stopping it.

Unfortunately, kids, and even adults, may believe that if the bullying isn’t happening to them, it’s none of their business. What they don’t realize is that keeping quite can do a great deal of harm – both to the victim and the bullying bystander.

When holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel was asked, “What is the most important commandment in the Bible?”, he said, “Thou shalt not stand idly by. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference; indifference creates evil. Hatred is evil itself. Indifference is what allows evil to be strong, what gives it power.”

It may seem harsh, but if a child sees bullying and doesn’t report it, that child is an enabler of the bullying – is inadvertently helping to continue the bullying.

Common Excuses for Not Reporting Bullying

If you’re a parent and your child was a bullying bystander, you’ll most likely here one of the following excuses for why they didn’t report the bullying to a teacher:

  1. The bully is my friend.
  2. It’s not my problem.
  3. The victim isn’t my friend.
  4. The victim is a loser.
  5. The victim deserved to be bullied.
  6. Bullying will toughen up the victim.
  7. I don’t want to be a tattle-tale.
  8. It’s better to be on the side of the bully than the victim.
  9. I don’t want to deal with this.

Helping a Child through Their Fears about Reporting Bullying

Taking a stand and reporting bullying requires a great deal of courage – especially for children that care greatly about what their peers think of them. Before a child can report bullying, it may be necessary to guide them through any fears they have about reporting bullying.

Many students believe that reporting bullying will make them the bully’s next target.

If a child expresses these concerns to you, you can:

  • Assure them that you (or the school) will treat the information seriously and confidentially (nobody will disclose to the bully the source of the information)
  • Tell them what you (or the school) is going to do about any bullying they report. Younger kids are more likely to report bullying. Teenagers are less likely to do so because they believe adults will do nothing or even make it worse. Explaining the process to kids can help.
  • Talk to them about how siding with the bully is no guarantee they’ll be safe from bullying. A bully can easily switch targets and there’s no reason the next target won’t be them. It’s better for them and their peers that the bully be stopped, and that can only happen once the bullying is reported.

Helping a Child to Recognize Bullying

Of course, a child needs to be able to recognize bullying before they can report it. If your child is still in elementary school, the three ‘R’s from the award-winning “Steps to Respect” program may be helpful.

(R)ecognize bullying

A child can determine if a situation is bullying by asking the following three questions:

  1. Is it fair? (Bullying won’t be fair to the victim.)
  2. How does it feel? (Bullying will feel bad to the victim.)
  3. Does it keep happening? (Bullying is ongoing.)

(R)efuse bullying: Reject or say no to bullying behaviour

(R)eport bullying: Anytime bullying is recognized, it can be reported. But a child should always report bullying if:

  1. Someone is unsafe
  2. Someone is touching or showing private body parts
  3. Refusing the bullying doesn’t work.

The Importance of Reporting Bullying

Bullying can only thrive if it’s not reported. A school community where bullying bystanders willingly and consistently report bullying can drastically the frequency of bullying incidents that occur.

In addition to helping prevent bullying, adult intervention is usually needed to stop serious bullying, and that intervention can only happen once the bullying is reported.

Helping kids to both work through their fears about reporting bullying and convincing them that you’ll do something about it when they do finally report can only lead to a healthier, bullying-free school community.

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